People who are injured in a water park accident can file a personal injury claim for damages. A personal injury lawsuit allows the victim to get money for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Waterpark and waterslide injuries may include drowning accidents, slip and fall injuries, lifeguard negligence, or getting sick from contaminated water. The person responsible for causing the accident could be a water park employee, water slide manufacturer, or other patron who recklessly uses a water slide.
Children are especially vulnerable in water park accidents, which can result in serious injury or even death. If a child drowns or is killed in a water park accident, the family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.
Below, our California personal injury attorneys discuss the following frequently asked questions about water park and water slide injury lawsuits:
- 1. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured at a water park?
- 2. Who is responsible for the water park or water slide injury?
- 3. What damages are available in water park accident lawsuit?
- 4. Who can sue after a fatal drowning accident in a water park?
- 5. What is the assumption of risk in a water park?
- 6. Can I file a lawsuit if I signed a liability waiver for my child?
- 7. Can I file a claim if the park says I was partially at fault for the accident?
- 8. Major Water Slide Settlements and Verdicts
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
Anyone injured in a waterpark accident may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible for the accident. Those responsible for causing an accident are generally liable to the injury victim for the costs of the accident. If the victim is successful in filing a personal injury lawsuit, the victim can get money damages.
Liability in a water park accident is generally based on one of the following types of personal injury claims:
Some water park accidents can also be caused by someone’s reckless behavior or intentional actions.
In order to get damages in a water slide injury case based on negligence, the injury victim needs to prove the following elements:
- The defendant owed the injury victim a duty of care;
- The defendant breached the duty of care through negligence;
- The breach was a cause of the victim’s injuries; and
- The injury victim suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s negligence.1
Under premises liability laws, water park owners and operators owe a duty to customers and visitors to maintain their property in a safe condition. Waterpark companies must repair dangerous conditions, follow safety regulations, and have a duty to warn patrons about other dangers.
The water park owner is responsible for maintaining the waterslides and wave pools, as well as maintaining other parts of the property, including restrooms, benches, food service areas, and parking lots.
If a negligent employee is responsible for causing an accident, then the waterpark company may be liable for the actions of the employee. The injury victim does not have to show that the company was directly liable. In a vicarious liability claim, the victim has to show:
- The victim was harmed by the employee’s negligence; and
- The company is responsible for the injuries because the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the incident occurred.2
When a water park product is defective, the defective part may be responsible for causing an injury accident. Product liability laws make the designer, manufacturer, or seller strictly liable for damages caused by the faulty product.3
Waterpark product liability lawsuits are generally based on:
There may be multiple parties who are responsible for a waterslide accident. When the injury victim files a personal injury lawsuit, the complaint names the potential defendants who may be responsible. In a water park injury lawsuit, the defendants may include:
- Waterpark owner or operator,
- Waterpark employees,
- Lifeguard and safety trainers,
- Waterpark supervisors,
- The parent company that owns the water park,
- City or county of municipal water parks,
- The park’s insurance company,
- Other water park patrons,
- Third-parties who contract with the water park to provide goods or services,
- Waterslide engineers, or
- Waterslide manufacturers.
When a water park employee is negligent and causes an accident, the park may be vicariously liable for the damages. Under “Respondeat Superior” laws, the park operator may be held responsible for the employee’s actions (or lack of action).5
However, when the accident was caused by a lack of training or supervision, the water park may be directly liable for the accident. Failure to properly train employees, hiring employees with a history of negligence, or not properly supervising employees could make the park liable based on negligent hiring.6 This is often the case in lawsuits for injuries sustained on a roller coaster or at an amusement park.
The water park and property owners are responsible for keeping the property in a reasonably safe condition. To win damages in a property liability lawsuit, the injury victim generally has to prove:
- The defendant owned, occupied, or controlled the property;
- The defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
- The plaintiff was harmed;
- The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm.7
In a water park, safety hazards may include:
- Improper warnings of wet surfaces,
- Broken stairways,
- Broken restraints,
- Broken slides,
- Pipes or hard edges that could cause slide injuries,
- Shallow slides that cause people to fall out,
- Lack of safety nets,
- Too shallow pools, or
- Lack of warnings in wave pools.
Waterpark accidents can also be caused by other water park patrons. If another water park customer is negligent, he or she may be liable for injuring other customers. However, the park may also share responsibility if the water park was not enforcing safety policies.
Customer negligence that causes a water slide injury could include:
- Ignoring safety warnings,
- Overloading water park rafts,
- Trying to stop in the middle of the slide, or
- Jumping into crowded pools.
When a defective water slide is responsible for a water park accident, multiple parties may be liable for damages. Under product liability claims, the manufacturer, designer, or seller has “strict liability” for damages. This means the injury victim does not need to show that any person or group was negligent for causing the accident.
To recover damages in a product liability lawsuit, the injury victim has to show:
- The defendant manufactured, distributed, or sold the product;
- The product contained a manufacturing, design, or warning defect when it left the defendant’s possession;
- The victim suffered harm; and
- The product defect was a substantial factor in causing the victim’s harm.8
When someone is injured in a water park accident, the victim may be able to sue for compensatory damages in a personal injury lawsuit. This includes:
- Medical bills,
- Physical therapy,
- Continuing medical care,
- Lost wages,
- Lost earning capacity,
- Loss of consortium of a spouse or domestic partner,
- Scarring or permanent disfigurement, and
- Pain and suffering.
In some cases, the injury victim may be able to sue for punitive damages. However, punitive damages generally require a showing of extreme or outrageous conduct, or intentional actions by the defendant to injure the plaintiff.9
Waterpark accidents can end in a fatal accident or drowning death. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the surviving family member may be able to sue for damages after a loved one is killed because of someone’s wrongful act.10
Certain family members are eligible to receive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit for their losses caused by the death of a family member. For example, in California, eligible family members who can sue for damages include:
- Surviving spouse;
- Domestic partner;
- Grandchildren (if the deceased person’s children are deceased); or
- Anyone else who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.
Damages in a wrongful death claim can include:
- Funeral expenses,
- Burial expenses,
- Financial earnings the deceased would have provided, and
- Compensation for the loss of companionship, guidance, and support.
The “assumption of the risk,” doctrine shifts liability for an accident to the person who engaged in an inherently risky activity. In a water park accident lawsuit, the water park may claim they are not liable for damages because the victim voluntarily engaged in an activity with an inherent risk of injury, including drowning or water injury.11
However, the defendant may still be liable for injuries even if the activity was considered inherently risky. If the defendant violated state safety laws or regulations or increased the risk to the plaintiff over and above the inherent risks, the defendant may still be liable.
A water slide may not be considered inherently risky, depending on the situation and type of injury. When assumption of the risk does not give the defendant a full defense, the defendant may be partially responsible for damages.
Under comparative fault laws, the jury may decide what percentage of fault each party shares. This could include dividing up fault among multiple defendants, or even placing some percentage of fault on the injury victim.
Some water parks may require parents to sign a liability waiver so their kids can use a water park or participate in swimming activities. In general, a liability waiver generally protects the water park operator or owner from personal injury claims for ordinary negligence. However, a liability waiver would generally not protect the water park from gross negligence, recklessness, violating safety regulations, or intentional harm.
Children are generally not able to enter into legally enforceable contracts.12 If anyone under the age of 18 signs a liability waiver, the waiver is probably not enforceable.
However, when a parent or legal guardian signs a child’s liability waiver on the child’s behalf, those waivers may be enforceable. However, it may be up to a jury to decide if the accident was covered by the liability waiver.13
The water park may claim the injury victim caused the accident and is responsible for their own injuries. However, even if the victim was partially at fault for the accident, he or she could still claim a portion of the damages.
Under comparative fault laws, if more than one party shares in the fault for the accident, the jury can apportion fault and damages.14
Example: Max is riding down the Rickety Rocket water slide. The water park employee is supposed to wait 15 seconds between riders to allow the next person to go down the slide.
The employee lets Max enter the slide tube. Max goes down the slide and tries to stop inside the tube. The employee lets the next customers go one-after-another, with no pauses. One of the riders hits Max inside the tube, causing neck and back injuries.
Max files a personal injury lawsuit against the water park company for $10,000 in damages. The company says Max is responsible for trying to stop inside the tube. Max claims the park employee was negligent because the employee did not make the riders wait a safe amount of time before entering the slide.
A jury finds Max was 30% responsible for the accident and the park is 70% responsible. Based on Max’s percentage of fault, Max may receive $7,000 in damages from the park (70% of $10,000 = $7,000).
- In 2016, a 10-year-old boy Caleb Schwab – son of lawmaker Scott Schwab – was decapitated on the Verruckt water slide (“the world’s tallest water slide”) at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas after it hit a metal pole. The Schwab family avoided a district court trial and received a settlement of almost $20 million dollars from several parties, including KC Waterpark. Note that a Wyandotte County judge dismissed a second-degree murder charge against the slide’s designer John Schooley and involuntary manslaughter against operations manager Tyler Miles. The attorney general had gotten the grand jury to indict on the criminal charges, but the judge said the grand jury had been improperly influenced.
- In 2016, the parents of a young boy filed a lawsuit against the city of Dublin, California after their son flew off the side of a water slide, causing cuts, scrapes, and burns across the boy’s body. The family filed a lawsuit seeking $2.5 million for damages against the city and the Wave Water Park.
- In 1997, a group of students on the Banzai Pipeline water slide at Waterworld, USA in Concord, California when the slide collapsed. One person was killed and another 32 were injured. The family of the student who was killed settled a negligence lawsuit for $1.7 million.
- In 2015, a 6-year-old boy suffered a brain injury after almost drowning in a wave pool at Cowabunga Bay water park in Henderson, Nevada. A health inspection found the park was operating with less than half the required number of lifeguards at the pool. The family filed a lawsuit against the water park.
- In 2017, a woman was struck in the head by a pipe on the Tornado water slide at Waterworld California. The woman suffered a broken artery in her skull and filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages for her injuries.
- In 2007, a 4-year-old boy drowned in few feet of water at the Great Barrier Reef wave pool in Santa Clara, California. A Cal/OSHA investigation found unprepared lifeguards and unenforced safety warnings. The family negotiated a settlement with the Great America amusement park company.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 4,200 people are taken to emergency rooms every year to treat water park victims for injuries, including:
- Broken bones,
- Spinal injuries,
- Cuts and abrasions,
- Concussions, and
- Near-drowning injuries. 15
For questions about water park accidents in California or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. For cases in Nevada, see our article on lawsuits for waterslide and waterpark accidents in Nevada.
We create attorney-client relationships and have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities. We offer discount rates and payment plans during the coronavirus pandemic. The initial consultation is free.
Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee future results.
- See, for example, California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
- See, for example, California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3701 — Tort Liability Asserted Against Principal–Essential Factual Elements. See also Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1995) 12 Cal.4th 291, 296–297 (“The rule of respondeat superior is familiar and simply stated: an employer is vicariously liable for the torts of its employees committed within the scope of the employment.“)
- Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 (“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.”)
- Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358.
- Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee’s torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 426 — Negligent Hiring, Supervision, or Retention of Employee. See also Doe v. Capital Cities (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1038, 1054 (“California case law recognizes the theory that an employer can be liable to a third person for negligent hiring, supervising, or retaining an unﬁt employee.”)
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) Series 1200 — Products Liability.
- California Civil Code § 3294
- California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent’s personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
- See, for example California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 408 on Primary Assumption of Risk.
- California Family Code 6710 (“Except as otherwise provided by statute, a contract of a minor may be disaffirmed by the minor before majority or within a reasonable time afterwards or, in case of the minor’s death within that period, by the minor’s heirs or personal representative.”)
- Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist. (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 1559.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 405. See also California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 406. (“… you must then decide how much responsibility each has by assigning percentages of responsibility to each person listed on the verdict form. The percentages must total 100 percent.”).
- AP News. Safety issues, statistics about water parks in the U.S. Roger Schneider. August 9, 2016.